Climbing in Kunar

Rusty & Pack Animals.

I don’t imagine too many people would vacation nowadays in Afghanistan, especially not in Kunar Province, but maybe. The most likely (and cheap) way for an American to get there is to be in the Army, or, as in my case, get called back to the Army after three years of civilian life for one more combat tour.

Bull Hill was the name of one of the observation posts overlooking my base. Usually, we changed guards on Fridays, because Fridays are the weekend in Islamic countries, and a good day to reorganize. There were generally fewer attacks.

Also, since we were a Provincial Reconstruction Team and did business with local government officials, tribal elders, contractors and other Afghan big shots, there wasn’t often reason to run missions on their weekend. . . .

Anyway, Bull Hill. Occasionally, I joined the soldiers making the climb to relieve last week’s guards. . . . (Read more on GoNomad.com)

Email from Afghanistan

I arrived in Bagram Air Force Base (BAF), Afghanistan on Sept. 27th, 2008, and over the course of two days, turned in my ammunition and sat through briefings about vehicle safety, family discord, suicide awareness, and mental health. Collectively, soldiers call them the “don’t-beat-your-wife classes.”

BAF is a sprawling military base full of shipping containers, new construction, gravel fields, military vehicles, hangars, fast food restaurants, Port-A-Johns and strangers in Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, French, Polish, and Egyptian uniforms, or with Lockheed Martin t-shirts, or Slavic accents and Kellog Brown & Root (a subsidiary of Haliburton) ID tags hanging from their necks. People would salute me and wear reflective belts at night, which, having newly arrived from the highly kinetic Kunar Province, felt ridiculous. (Read more of my essay on atlantic.com)

Iran is NOT coming to get me

This brief (300-word) letter to the editor appeared in the Daily Iowa, October 16th 2007.

     In last week’s Republican presidential debate, all the candidates except for Ron Paul went on ad nauseam about the Islamo-fascist regime bent on destroying all of Western civilization.
     This would be quite an accomplishment for a nation whose national GDP is comparable to the state of Alabama’s.
     The sentiments are echoed by many prominent figures in the press who have propagated an inexcusable misquotation with frightening efficiency. Ahmadinejad never threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.”
     The war cheerleading smacks of the same duplicity that led to the invasion of Iraq. Even the supposedly liberal New York Times subsequently apologized for deliberately suppressing stories that questioned the invasion of Iraq.
     The Iranian threat is not nearly as dire as depicted. We have faced a nuclear Soviet Union and a nuclear North Korea. I agree with former CENTCOM commander General Abizaid: we can live with a nuclear Iran. Their regime is not suicidal.
     Military action against Iran, no matter how precise and limited, would certainly escalate, erase our modest gains in Iraq and Afghanistan, instantly jeopardize our soldiers overseas, destabilize Pakistan (who already has nukes), and cause terrorism against us to skyrocket.
     I doubt the sincerity of those making a hysterical case for war. James Madison warned us “the means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.”
     If we are supposed to be so scared of terrorists that we start a third war in six years, that we accept concessions already made to our constitutional liberties, it seems like a no-brainer to do something about our completely porous borders.
     The fear-mongering is completely hypocritical so long as our borders are ignored. It’s analogous to a child on a playground, sticking out his chin. “Hit me, so I can have my war.”
     Enough is enough.

See it in the Daily Iowan. (I didn’t choose their title.)
250-word version published in Fayetteville Observer, Nov 5th, 2007.

A Brief Tour of the Holy Land

Three bums touring the Holy Land

Well, almost a year after my tour of the Holy Land, I published the essay about my trip. It’s long – almost 8,000 words. Two fairly well-known magazines expressed interest, then said no. Finally, the great travel-writing website, GoNomad.com published it. I’m very proud of this essay.

A Brief Tour of the Holy Land

     Last summer, my friend Steffen and I decided to follow through on plans to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories. We wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and went despite the war between Israel and Lebanon that had just begun.
     We happened to be Iraq veterans – in addition to fishing partners, drinking partners, each other’s wingmen, concerned citizens of the world, and students of the Arabic language, which was how we met at the University of Iowa. Officially, I was an M.F.A. student in the Writers’ Workshop. Steffen was moving to Jordan to continue studying Arabic, so it seemed a natural detour for him, and I still had deployment money left from my time in Iraq. I promised my mother to not get hurt, and to stay away from the actual fighting in Lebanon, Northern Israel, and Gaza. (more)

The Wall in Bethlehem

The American Budget

My curiosity about the federal government, taxes, foreign policy, military spending, etc. led me to http://www.thebudgetgraph.com/. I bought the poster, and have since spent hours studying the administration’s discretionary budget proposal. It inspired the following guest opinion, published in the Daily Iowan on Feb 19th, 2007.

Demand better results from defense spending

We Americans, I think, do not generally consider ourselves militant. Our forces are all-volunteer. There is no sustained presence of uniformed soldiers in the streets, as exists in other nations. The ideals of peace, justice, and liberty feature prominently in both our history and folklore. We did not even keep a substantial standing army during peacetime for the first century and a half of our existence – the practice began in 1945.

For many, myself included, recent history runs contrary to what we thought we knew about ourselves. Read More

Time to leave the illusions behind

This guest opinion was published in the Daily Iowan, Jan. 17th, 2007, and the Press Citizen, Jan. 23rd, 2007.

Time to leave the illusions behind

President Bush mentioned the Iraq Study Group report twice in his 20-minute speech touting the proposed increased troop level in Iraq. He stated that his plan to embed more American advisers in Iraqi Army units is consistent with the report.

Although that specific morsel of his new plan is indeed consistent with the report, his saying so creates the illusion of a broader consistency that simply is not there. Read more: (Daily Iowan | Press Citizen)